After Akron contractor Thomas Rardon was sentenced to three years in prison for bilking elderly people out of tree repairs, he argued with the judge.

“It’s just not right,” Rardon told Summit County Common Pleas Judge Tammy O’Brien. “I’m not supposed to go to prison!”

O’Brien cut Rardon off and deputies led him from the courtroom in handcuffs past several of Rardon’s unhappy customers.

“I hope you rot in hell!” Rardon hissed at them.

“Back at you,” replied Jim Collver, who painted a message to Rardon earlier this year on a half-felled tree. “You piece of garbage!”

This was the dramatic end to Rardon’s sentencing Thursday afternoon.

Rardon, 41, pleaded guilty in September to two counts of theft from a person in a protected class, fourth-degree felonies; one count of theft from a person in a protected class, a fifth-degree felony; one count of theft, a fifth-degree felony; and one count of petty theft, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Prosecutors said Rardon was hired and paid by five elderly customers to remove trees from their properties, but he never performed the work or didn’t finish it.

Collver, frustrated that Rardon hadn’t followed through in removing the rest of a tree in his girlfriend’s Firestone Park yard, painted, “Tommy Rardon, Take Down This Tree,” in pink-and-white letters on the limbless trunk in April. Linger’s Lumberjacks in Norton volunteered to remove the remainder of the tree from Beverly Blass’ yard in May.

Don Hicks, who represented Rardon, said his client has been doing tree work for 20 years and has many customers who speak positively of the work he performed.

“Tom often works too cheap,” Hicks said. “He has an overly optimistic concept of his ability to do the work and to profit from it.”

Hicks suggested that O’Brien consider work release for Rardon to allow him to continue working to pay for restitution to his victims.

Assistant Prosecutor Nik Buckmeier said Rardon was originally charged with bilking two people, but three more came forward and additional charges were filed. He said Rardon was previously convicted for similar behavior.

Buckmeier said Rardon used a similar approach with each of his latest victims. He said Rardon knocked on the door and offered to do work at a low price — almost “too good to be true.” He then cut a few branches or a small tree and asked for money. He later returned with a personal story, such as how his wife was pregnant or he had a new baby and needed money and the customers gave it to him.

“He would callously use the exact same story with no regard for the victims, no worry about getting caught,” Buckmeier said.

Buckmeier urged O’Brien to impose the maximum prison term of five years.

Rardon said he took on too much, and it got out of control. He apologized to anyone he hurt.

“I absolutely love trees,” he said. “I do a tremendous amount of good work and I do a tremendous amount that I mess up. I want to make amends.”

O’Brien said the fact that Rardon told the same story to different victims makes her think he was preying on certain people.

“Due to bad business practices, maybe you shouldn’t be in this business,” she said.

The judge ordered Rardon to pay restitution of $6,435 to his victims.

Several of Rardon’s victims said after the sentencing that they were satisfied. They also hope others learn from their experience.

“It’s a cautionary tale for anyone knocking on your door promising a deal,” Blass said.

Majorie Chevrier and Mike Francis of Akron had a similar experience to Blass. The couple hired Rardon to take down a large tree and trim several other trees. They paid him up front for the work and gave him more money when he asked for it, saying he was going to get kicked out of his house. Rardon took down half a tree and repaid only part of the money they loaned him for rent.

“It was just a bunch of excuses and a token amount of work to show he had good will,” Francis said. “It was a big scam.”

The couple was taken aback by what Rardon said after the sentencing.

“This is just a hard-hearted man,” Francis said. “That’s the sad thing. There’s no reason to think he’s ever going to change.”

Chevrier, however, who brought a prayer book with her to court, said she will be “praying for his heart.”

 

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.